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Strategic Command Chief Has Confidence in Russian Nuke Security

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 30, 1998 – The man in charge of America's nuclear arsenal is satisfied with Russia's nuclear security program.

Air Force Gen. Eugene Habiger, commander in chief of U.S. Strategic Command, said a tour of Russian nuclear facilities showed him the Russians have a very conservative policy regarding nuclear weapons. He also said reports of Russia "losing" suitcase size nuclear weapons are false.

Habiger spoke to the press in mid-June following a six-day trip to five Russian nuclear sites. He said the Russians have a program similar to the U.S. Personnel Reliability Program. Those working around or guarding nuclear weapons must pass through rigorous screening.

Habiger said the Russians are changing their command and control of nuclear forces to mirror that of the United States. Nuclear security will come under the control of the 12th Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Ministry of Defense, he said. This includes warheads from the Strategic Rocket Forces and naval nuclear weapons. General-lieutenant Igor Kalynkin, Habiger's host for much of the trip, commands this directorate.

Habiger said Russian site security is manpower-intensive. "In the United States, we perform security at silos through high-tech means," Habiger said. "In Russia there are two guards at each silo. The security was excellent."

Habiger said he witnessed an exercise at a nuclear storage site based on terrorists attacking the site. He said Russian forces responded promptly with helicopter gunships and armored personnel carriers. "Was it scripted?" he asked. "Of course it was, but it showed their capability is very good."

Habiger said all members of the Russian military who work directly with nuclear weapons are officers; the United States uses both officers and enlisted personnel. Another difference is the people operating the silo missile systems below ground. U.S. teams are composed of two officers; Russian teams have three.

Habiger said morale among the Russian service members appeared good. "The Russian military generally is in poor shape, but the Russians seem to be concentrating on their nuclear forces and their airborne," he said. Russian commanders recently got permission to pay those working with nuclear weapons a 50 percent bonus.

Russian officers generally remain in their assignments longer than their American counterparts. Habiger told of two Russian colonels who had been at the same nuclear storage site for 27 and 25 years.

But this works against morale, especially in light of the past 10 years of Russian pullbacks from former Soviet republics. "One problem is housing," Habiger said. When Russia brought back personnel involved with nuclear weapons from Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, there was little housing. Russian military officials told Habiger they are still about 15,000 to 17,000 units short.

Habiger said he saw evidence of the workings of the Nunn-Lugar program, through which DoD assists former Soviet states in reducing and securing their weapons of mass destruction. "I saw new fencing, cameras and other security devices being used," he said.

Habiger also brought up Year 2000 problems. This refers to a computer problem where computer systems see the "00" in a date group and translate it to "1900" and not "2000." He said Russian military officials said they expect no problems with their command and control apparatus due to Year 2000 problems.

All in all, Habiger expressed more confidence in Russian security measures than U.S. military intelligence estimates. "I have a bit of confidence because I have been exposed to a great deal," he said. "Do I have the total 100 percent truth? No, but I am probably a hell of a lot closer than [military analysts] are."

Habiger said he wants the cooperation between the United States and Russia to continue. Plans for further visits are moving forward, he said.

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